Homemade Chikuwa?

Joined Oct 9, 2008
As usual, I've got a somewhat strange question: does anyone out there know how to make chikuwa (or hanpen or the like) from scratch?

For those who don't know, chikuwa are a class of Japanese blobs -- fried, steamed, and/or broiled -- made of ground fish paste, starch, egg white, salt, other seasonings, and often various kinds of vegetables. They come in various shapes and sizes. The best thing to do with them is to get a whole bunch of different kinds and drop them into a wide earthenware pot (a do-nabe) with a slab of kombu, some shelled hardboiled eggs, chunks of carrot and daikon, a dash each of sake and soy, a sprinkle of sugar, and water just barely to cover. Bring to a strong simmer, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for as long as you can stand it -- many hours is ideal. Mix up some plain mustard (50/50 water and mustard powder) as a dip, and serve. This dish is oden, a classic cold-weather favorite in Japan, especially in Kansai, most especially in Kyoto.

You can get chikuwa frozen at Asian markets, but they're not very good. I used to like them, but after a year in Kyoto, where I used to get them fresh from stalls in Nishiki market, I don't like the frozen kind any more.

The stuff is very old: they've been making these things for centuries. So you must be able to do it at home, especially now with food processors. But how?

Yes, I could just experiment, but I'm hoping someone has some guesses or experience or something.

Joined Oct 18, 2016
Hello friend! No reply for your question is kinda sad, huh? I know how to make but I can not give you the recipe out, because I work in a Japanese food factory that makes Chikuwa. The biggest amount of products in it are surimi, for every 200 kg of surimi there is around 50 liters of water. After that the starch.
The first thing is getting the surimi ready which is turning it in small bits, since it comes in big sheets and frozen. After that water is addéd. They are added in two steps. The first is added directly to the surimi making it a paste with it. While this is being done, the starch part which is a lot of stuff I can not say is being mixed with water to the added later on the the mixture. After adding it, the mixture is mixed on the industrial mixer for,about 20 minutes. Later on going directly to the machines that will mold it and add it to the sticks to be baked. After that they go directly into the blast freezer for about 45 minutes. Being packaged afterwards.
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Thanks for the reply!

I gather you don't make chikuwa from raw fish at all, but from premade surimi. I was kind of hoping to learn how to make it from scratch, i.e., how to make my own surimi from inexpensive white fish (e.g., pollock).

As long as you mention it, though, I'm a little surprised you need all that starch if you're working from surimi. Isn't surimi already bound with a lot of starch, albumen, and so forth?

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Joined Nov 8, 2017
That's from long ago, but if you're still looking for a way to make the fishcakes...

Japanese use "surimi" as their generic term for raw fish grounded into a paste, even before starch and other ingredients are added (or not) to the mix. I would guess that's what the factory was getting: a blend of very fresh "mixed white fish" paste.

Surimi is the first step of making fishcakes, at home or industrially. You can make it yourself by putting pieces of (for chikuwa, white) fish fillet into a food processor (traditionally done by hand with a mortar - lots of work) - preferably you half-freeze the fish first (or add a cube or two of ice into the food processor if it's powerful enough for it), as the surimi heats easily. Pollock, cod, tilapia - it's a a bit whatever is freshest and not too expensive. Then starch (arrowroot/kudzu, or potato/katakuriko or corn) is added to the surimi, with egg whites, salt, sugar, mirin and sake. Make the surimi as smooth as your processor can achieve, and try to avoid creating air bubbles as you work the paste.

The surimi, once the other ingredients are added, will be very sticky/gooey. You form the fish cake with wet or lightly oiled palms and your favorite tools, depending on the cooking method (wet palms for boiled or steamed, oil for deep-fried or broiled). You roll it on a stick or equivalent for chikuwa, or make a log for kamoboko, and flat round patties for satsuma age, balls. Etc. For satsuma age, you can add carrots or burdock cut really small (and can use some non-white fish, like mackerel), and optionally ginger juice and other seasonings (shiso, yuzu, togarashi etc.). Adding shrimps with the white fish in the surimi makes nice shrimp balls. A reduction of crab cooking juices is another nice seasoning option.

Once the fish cake is formed, it needs to rest for an hour before cooking. It's apparently a step that gives it the right mouthfeel/chewy - not sure of the science involved, but I guess it's about the starch.

Basic fish paste recipe:

500 g white fish fillet or fish blend
7 grams of sea salt (fine)
20 grams of granulated sugar
36 grams starch (kudzu, or katakuriko - cornstarch works fine as well)
2 egg whites
70 ml sake
15 ml mirin

Finally chopped carrots, burdock, hijiki (pre-cooked), lotus roots etc. if making Satsuma Age. Ginger juice, about 15 ml, if desired.

Kamaboko logs are shaped on small wood pieces (I use those from store-bought kamaboko I've collected), but anything that will go in the steamer is fine as base, including silicone moulds. They need about 20 min. of steaming, then they're normally chilled in an ice bath for 15 min or so. Beware: leave room in the steamer, they increase in volume.

Chikuwa are slowly broiled over a Japanese BBQ (for about 20 min), but they can also be oven cooked (on a rack) and torched to get the broiled finish. They need to be pricked with a skewer or pin to release the air when they start bubbling. The "skin" will shrink as they cool.

Satsuma age are deep-fried. You turn them over once you see the fish is cooked halfway to the center.

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